Breast Cancer Awareness

“It won’t happen to me.”
“I’m too young to have to worry about that.”
“I don’t have time to check for lumps.”

For many women, breast cancer is something they’ll worry about at a later stage – if at all. But let’s look at the facts:

Fact: 1 in 35 women in South Africa are at risk of developing breast cancer. So it could happen to you.

Fact: You’re never too young to adopt a healthy lifestyle to prevent breast cancer.

Fact: Taking 5 minutes, once a month for a self-examination, could save your life.

So what can you do?

Knowledge is power, especially when it comes to life-threatening illnesses like cancer. According to the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA), one-in-four individuals may be affected by the disease during their lifetime. This makes risk reduction, prevention and early detection even more important.

Prevention and early detection measures:

1.      Monthly self-examinations

“Forty percent of diagnosed breast cancers are detected by women who feel a lump, so establishing a regular breast self-exam is very important.”

Many breast lumps are harmless, but they should all be checked. Breast self-exams help you to be familiar with how your breasts look and feel so you can alert your healthcare professional if there are any changes.

Do your examinations at the same time every month. If you find a lump, schedule an appointment with your doctor, but don’t panic — 8 out of 10 lumps are not cancerous. For additional peace of mind, call your doctor whenever you have concerns.

How to perform a breast self-exam:

A) In the shower
Using the pads of your fingers, move around your entire breast in a circular pattern, moving from the outside to the center, checking the entire breast and armpit area. Check both breasts each month, feeling for any lump, thickening or hardened knot. Notice any changes and get lumps evaluated by your healthcare provider.

B) In front of a mirror
Visually inspect your breasts with your arms at your sides. Next, raise your arms high overhead.

Look for any changes in the contour, any swelling or dimpling of the skin, or changes in the nipples. Next, rest your palms on your hips and press firmly to flex your chest muscles. Left and right breasts will not exactly match – few women’s breasts do, so look for any dimpling, puckering or changes, particularly on one side.

C) Lying down

When lying down, the breast tissue spreads out evenly along the chest wall. Place a pillow under your right shoulder and your right arm behind your head. Using your left hand, move the pads of your fingers around your right breast gently in small circular motions, covering the entire breast area and armpit.

Use light, medium and firm pressure. Squeeze the nipple; check for discharge and lumps. Repeat these steps for your left breast.

2.      Mammograms

Symptom-free women from the age of 40, should go for a mammogram (a special x-ray to detect lumps in the breast), every year.

Mammograms detect tumors before they can be felt, so screening is key for early detection. But since you only have it done once a year – it’s still very important to do breast self-exams every month so you can report any changes to your healthcare provider.

3.      A healthy lifestyle

A balanced lifestyle plays a very important role in staying cancer-free. This includes regular exercise, not smoking, not drinking too much alcohol and staying safe in the sun.

According to CANSA, unhealthy lifestyle factors contribute to cancer cases in the following way:

  • 15% due to being overweight and not getting enough exercise
  • 5% due to consuming too much alcohol
  • 20 – 25% due to using tobacco or tobacco products

In short, experts estimate that your cancer risk can be reduced by 30% if these unhealthy lifestyle factors are excluded from your life.

Find out more

Visit for more information on how you can live and stay healthy and cancer-free.

You can also contact your local CANSA Care Centre and arrange for a breast cancer screening, or ask about scheduled visits to provide screening via their Mobile Health Clinics, if you live in a remote area.

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